I am sitting on the nap room floor. My back is resting up against the wall. The music is low and dreamy and it is making me sleepy. The room is dim, but not dark. I can see everyone and they can see me. On one side of me, laying on their sleep mats, I have M, the other I have Y.. I am slowly and gently rubbing their backs, patting them slowly, being mindful of their breathing....every breath in and out I feel their chests rise and I hear there sighs. Today is like any other day, except its not (and never will be like-any -other-day) again. Both of these incredible, and bright little girls lives have been forever altered, and neither of them has any real understanding of what this actually means. It's an unbelievable coincidence that both of these girls are in my care centre at the same time. Both girls are 4 years old, and both are trying to deal with the sudden deaths of their fathers. M lost her daddy almost a year ago now. Her and her little sister attend my centre part time. It has been a tough year for them, for us all. It just seems like yesterday that I heard the devastating outcome of a city wide search that ended horribly wrong.... her dad was gone. M has been incredible through this confusing time as we all tried to navigate through this unchartered, muddy water. In my 23 years of practice, this was the first time one of "my" children had lost a parent. I bought books on loss, I researched on how to talk with children about loss. I kept notes, and we made booklets.... and there were tears. Many, hundreds, thousands. Children always surprise me with their incredible resilience. While I struggled to hold back the tears whenever she spoke of her daddy, M was happy and stoic and matter of fact. "I'm going to the store to buy a jet-pack! I'm going to fly to heaven and go get my daddy!" M would state so clearly. I believed her! I believed she was going to do everything she could to get her daddy back. She made up amazing and complicated stories, it blew us away. This was her way of coping, and it was so beautifully sad. Fast forward to today, where my little Y is only 3 weeks in to this "new life". She hasn't mentioned her dad to me at all, but she has said a few things to some of the other caregivers here. I have been in a few long and private conversations with Y's mom, and she is equally amazed at the incredible coping skills of her child. My worry turns to mom, and her new normal. I worry about the educators at my center who are living with the fear of saying the wrong thing, or not saying the right thing. And then, there are the quiet moments, like at rest time when there's time to think. The magical moments just before children are about to fall asleep, when even a 14 year old boy morphs back into a toddler with their tiny, intimate sounds of comfort and peace. As I gently run my fingers through Y's hair, I notice she is inching closer to me. Slowly, but knowingly, within minutes, her head is now on my lap. She needs me, and I cant imagine this any other way. I need her too. The trust that has been established between us is clear. I love her, and she loves me. She doesn't fall asleep, but she is in that zone. Her body is still, but her eyes are wide open. Her mom and I have had endless conversations over the past year about this incredible child, this brilliant child, this now-fatherless child. As a community, we are embracing these families. We need them right now just as much as they need us. I struggle to say the right words...I wonder if I am saying the right things at the right time. I am fearful of what the next year looks like for this family, and if I have the right tools to help them navigate through this hell. The job as an educator has no limits. There is no dollar amount that can be equal to the job that we do each and every day. You have to LOVE everything about being here. The good, the bad and the incredibly uncomfortable and intimate moments that we experience so often. TRUST IS EVERYTHING. RELATIONSHIPS MEAN EVERYTHING. The image I have for myself as an educator is always changing. This new role is scary, and confusing and real. I am ready. I have 2 little girls who's lives mean too much to give up on. I am an early childhood educator. This is what I do.
(To protect the identity of the children in my care, the initials I used are not the same as the children I write of, and the photos are also not of the children I am writing of) Thank you.
*Adding on.... One of the amazing educators who has been working closely with my little friend (y) brought this incredible quote to me today. It happened yesterday while discussing life as we so often do with our children. "My daddy is still real. He's really real. He doesn't need his clothes anymore. He's not broken. He's a fairy now!" (*sigh* ......my heart) This intimate conversation between a familiar educator and this beautiful soul shows me that so much trust has been developed in this relationship. Children are constantly trying to make sense of the world around them, challenging it, questioning it and trusting that the adults around them will protect them from harms way. As educators, we can't always protect our children, but I know that Y trusts that she can speak freely at any time, and that her words are heard and respected. This is an incredible gift. We are all learning, one step at a time. Sharing this story with me, and the other educators here is also so valuable. None of us have an answer to what is right and wrong when dealing with death and trauma. But I do know, that conversations amoungst colleagues, and sharing stories helps us deal with our internal fears of inadequacy. Slowly, we are all bonding over this loss and learning to cope with our "new-normal" roles as early childhood educators. Thank you Y.... we are here beside you as you walk through the unknown.